platos musical modes
The field of music and neuroscience is greatly expanding and is indicating many beneficial ways music can engage and change the brain. Music arouses sentiment and cannot be underestimated as a powerful shaper of human virtue, character, and emotion. As vehicles of musical expression, musicians possess the ability to profoundly influence an audience for good or for evil. Music stimulates emotions through specific brain circuits. Let’s look at some of Plato’s theories on ways and how music can stimulate the human brain.
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Greek philosophers Plato’s theories on music
Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle affirmed that music contained an intrinsic element that was conducive to the promotion of moral or spiritual harmony and order in the soul. Plato (and his contemporaries) attributed specific character-forming qualities to each of the individual harmonia, or musical modes, believing that each could shape human character in a distinct way. Plato’s theories on music shaped the structure of Greek education.
[blockquote author=”From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia” single=”true”]In the theory of Western music, a mode is a type of musical scale coupled with a set of characteristic melodic behaviours. Musical modes have been a part of western musical thought since the Middle Ages, and were inspired by the theory of ancient Greek music.[/blockquote]
Music played a paramount role in paideia
Music played a paramount role in paideia. Paideia was the process of educating humans into their true form. In a sense, paideia was “the complete pedagogical course of study necessary to produce a well-rounded, fully educated citizen”. This educational program was devoted to the education of the inner being—of the shaping of virtue and character—and music was considered a primary vehicle of character formation because of its ethical power and ability to form the rational mind.
The persuasive nature of music led Plato to believe that music was too potent to be entrusted to the whims of mere musicians or common people. These “mere musicians”—those who occupied themselves with the performance of music and not the theoretical study of its ratios—were not even esteemed as citizens worthy to engage in music. Not every listener’s preference counted: only those who were the most educated, the most rational—those who were fully competent, responsible listeners and looked past superficial entertainment to the greater interests of society as a whole. Artistic inspiration likewise had to be informed, disciplined, and rational, for unbridled emotional gratification and mindless pleasure were virtually antithetical to the value of music.
Because music was primarily imitative—it mirrored man’s sensual and intellectual life—music could shape thought, action, and perception in powerful ways to which most people were oblivious. Thus, Plato concluded that “education in music is most sovereign, because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it, bringing with them and imparting grace…”
The Greek theorists championed the expressive nature of single melodies. Renaissance theorists now had the task of evaluating this expressive power in light of the advancement of polyphony. Like Plato, Cortesi agreed that because musical modes appeared to “imitate all the habits of morals and all the motions of passions, they had the ability to arouse certain emotions and inspire particular sentiments in the listener.
The creation and practice of music are tightly wound with human emotion, character, and the overall tapestry of human experience. Music arouses sentiment, whether it evokes the intended sentiment or not. Thus, music cannot be underestimated as a powerful shaper of human virtue, character, and emotion.
Musicians possess the ability to profoundly influence an audience. The nature of music and the manner in which musicians utilise it ensures innumerable ramifications that cannot be ignored.
[blockquote author=”Greek philosophers Plato” single=”true”]It is evident that all the habits and motions of the soul are found in the nature of the modes, in which nature the similarity to fortitude, or temperance, or anger, or mildness is exhibited, and it can easily be observed and judged that the minds of men are usually brought to those motions just as they are excited by the action of the modes. [/blockquote]